The UFC has grown to epic proportions, swallowing smaller organizations and eclipsing all other combat arts including wrestling and boxing. The WEC was purchased in 2006, Pride in 2007, and Strikeforce in 2011. They’ve now partnered with Fox Broadcasting, giving them access to 8.8 million users via that broadcast network. Given that the UFC is a privately owned company we can only go on estimates, but the current guess is roughly 200 to 300 million dollars gross a year; no matter the amount you have to agree that it is thriving.
Those close to me are aware that I recently passed my 4th Degree test, so it comes as a surprise to absolutely nobody that I’ve been eagerly anticipating this title. The previous title came out two years ago, with the folks at Yuke’s taking a full year off to hammer out some of the minor issues we found in 2010. An all new transition system, feints, the entire Pride fighting system with Pride rules, over 160 fighters, a simplified stat system, new training modes, and a completely revamped submission system, coupled with a rebuilt career mode looks to stage an impressive comeback for the series. With the belts for two weight classes in my award cabinet, and a handful of online battles (mostly) under my belt, it was time to take the UFC Undisputed franchise into Round 3.
“A black belt only covers two inches of your ass. You have to cover the rest.” – Royce Gracie
The first thing that I want to mention in my review is the best change that Yukes brought to the table. Not only do I recall the press events where we were invited to meet the developers and THQ staff at several UFC events, but I also remember shaking hands and they all had callused rips in the palms of their hands from the obnoxious submission system used in the prior titles – UFC Undisputed 1 and 2. For those unfamiliar, you’d put your opponent into a vulnerable position and then put your palm on the right thumbstick to spin it furiously while your foe did the same. Put simply, after a few submission attempts I had no interest in grinding away the skin in my palm, turning the previous games into boxing games. The new system is simple, effective, and won’t cause you physical pain.
When you and an opponent grapple and move to initiate a lock, you’ll begin by simply depressing the right thumbstick. At this point a new octagonal HUD appears with a P1 and P2 indicator shown in red and blue. The two indicators will chase one another with your thumbstick movements with the simple objective of covering over the top of the other. If you can keep your indicator over the top of your opponents indicator long enough to exhaust their stamina, you’ll submit them successfully. If you as a defender can hold out long enough to pull the meter your way, you’ll escape from the attempt. This system is simple, effective, and still challenging enough where players both expert and beginner have a chance of defending on the ground.
Speaking of ground defense, there are now two modes for the transition system – beginner and expert. The expert setting is the return of the previous sweeping quarter circle / quarter circle+ motions to perform minor and major transitions, and it functions exactly as it did before. The beginner setting is far simpler, asking players to simply tap up or down on the thumbstick to initiate the appropriate transition. This change allows a sense of balance between the different player skill levels – novice gamers who want to experience UFC but are still too new to it can play the game and be somewhat competitive against veteran players who likely grew up throwing fireballs in various fighting games in their youth.
“Oh, I’m sorry sir – bangida bangida bang – oh no I’m not…” Bas Rutten fighting ‘wisdom’
The career mode in UFC Undisputed 3 gets a full revamp, with the first thing getting adjusted being the stat system. Whether you are using your Create a Fighter or a fighter from the roster, the stats are boiled down to just four – strength, cardio, XXXXXXX, and a new item called Footwork. Footwork enables you to race across the ring for crazy flying knees, as well as your ability to bob, weave, zig, and zag. If you want to move like Anderson Silva, this is the stat you’ll want to max – the man simply isn’t there to punch, no matter where you throw. How you develop those skills is also major adjustment.
Just as in previous titles, you’ll amp up your fighter abilities and stats with the minigame system. The minigame package has been expanded greatly, adding up to a whopping 14 different activities. These break down into eight drills including flipping tires, hitting the bags, working focus mitts, and more, as well as six different sparring challenges that push your skills to the next level. The sparring expansion has you fighting on your feet, in the clinch, on the ground, working transitions, and helping you hone the skills beyond the sweet science.
Before you can begin your meteoric rise, the game now kicks things off with some basic tutorials. You’ll now watch some videos on the Standup, Clinch, and Ground game. Once you get the basics explained at length, you’ll take a test on each section. Your performance in these tests determines your Create A Fighter initial stats, as well as giving you a suggested difficulty level. The normal three levels are available, with an Ultimate mode locked until you beat the career mode at least once.
As your career progresses you’ll be given the opportunity to attend camps, but this option has been pared down and honed a bit. There are now only 6 camps to choose from, but they are certainly the ones you’ve heard of, including Black House, American Kickboxing Academy, and Greg Jackson’s Gym as examples. In these gyms you’ll square off against the real-world fighters that inhabit them to learn new skills including signature moves. These moves can add things like a jump frontkick, a flying knee, a spinning backfist, a hook kick, and far more to your already-impressive arsenal. About half way through your career you’ll be given the opportunity to align yourself to just one house, granting access to otherwise-locked attacks and submission techniques. As your devotion to that gym increases, you’ll see their coaches and trainers begin to appear at your ringside, ready to help. This decision is permanent, so choose wisely.
The final piece of stat management is the new Game Plan system. A fighter entering the ring who’s only Game Plan is “I’m gonna step in there and do my best” is likely the one taking an L on his record. To succeed in the Octagon you really need to choose the correct plan for the opponent you’ll be facing, and this is where the gameplan can help. Given a menu of eight game plans including ground and pound, counterpunching, aggressive, and more, you’ll be given a substantial stat boost to support your plan. This selection will cost you points in other areas, but might grant the edge you’ll need for victory. These gameplans have specific conditions that you’ll have to complete to have it be considered ‘successful’ with examples including never being taken down, landing more strikes, scoring multiple takedowns, and more. If you succeed in executing your gameplan you’ll get to keep a good chunk of the point adjustments, so be mindful of how using that plan consistently may impact your stats.
A heavily requested addition to the career mode comes in the form of being able to take a roster fighter through a career mode. If you wanted to build of Matt Sera or take the reins as Lyota Machida to build your way up to taking down Rashad Evans for the first time, now you can. While the mode allowing you to rewrite exciting fights from the past returns, the ability to fight through the career mode allows you to build an entirely new history from scratch.
The fight system uses a new currency called “Cred”. Cred allows you to purchase new training equipment to raise your stat caps, pick up new trainers, select a gameplan, and more. Depending on your fight selection you may pick up more or less cred, depending on your opponent’s ranking or how last-moment you take on a fight.
“Hey, ref…don’t look at me! Pay attention to the fight!” – Bas Rutten during a fight.
Pride is a Japanese version of the UFC that features a pretty crazy WWE-style presentation. Now owned by the UFC, Pride was the origins of a great many of the best the UFC now has to offer. Replacing Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg as commentators is Bas Rutten, Stephen Quadros, and female announcer Lenne Hardt. It isn’t the wacky entrances or the Japanese ring judge that makes Pride a little crazy to watch though – it’s the fact that head kicks while an opponent is down is not only legal, but also encouraged. Unlike the UFC however, you are not allowed to use elbow strikes to the face in Pride. The other major rule difference is the Grand Prix. Grand Prix bouts consist of two rounds, with the first being a whopping 10 minutes, and the second one being 5. While this does add up to a normal 15 minute fight like you’d see in the UFC, that first sustained 10 minute round is brutal on fighters with less cardio.
The Pride fighting system can be used in nearly every mode, including the online system. This means your rookie fighter may end up fighting in the square Pride ring before he sees the inside of the Octagon. To be successful, you’ll need to know the rules, so be mindful before you book that next fight.
Beyond the addition of Pride, there are also new adjustment options for creating the game you want to play. Setting the game to ‘Competition Specs’ allows you to tone down or remove the flash knockouts, whereas Equalized Stats mode syncs up the two fighter stat banks to ensure an even match. You can even adjust your cardio to simulate a Tito Ortiz or Clay Guida level of cardio. It is just another example of the way Yuke’s is making this your game to customize.
“Damn, I’m ugly.” – Forrest Griffin
There are a great deal of improvements being brought to the table with UFC Undisputed 3, but there is one aspect that is unfortunately not living up to the very bar this sequel has raised for itself – the online component. The game uses the same online pass system we’ve seen in several THQ titles, but it now comes with a 7 day trial to try things out if you bought the game used. Joining an online game is simplicity itself, but staying connected proved difficult. Out of the 10 fights that I took online, only 2 went to completion. Talking with the other players (some with over 100 fights already!), they found this disconnection phenomenon to be a constant.
On the positive side of things, I found absolutely no lag or Internet-based issues during online play. Fast and furious action couldn’t shake the framerate or the connection. Hopefully THQ will iron this out before launch or shortly thereafter.
“He wants to get in close to use that reach advantage.” – Mike Goldberg
After putting in more than a dozen hours, it is very clear to me that UFC Undisputed 3 came to play. The improvements across the board show the results of the extended development cycle, and it has paid off. Every facet of the game has been made more accessible, and the new submission system removes a huge issue with the two previous games. The revamped career mode breathes extended life into the title, allowing you to take your own fighter, or a real-life fighter into the Octagon. Adding Pride and its odd rules is a welcome distraction from the well-known rules of the UFC. It isn’t often that the third title in a series gets so much right, but UFC Undisputed 3 manages to deliver a knockout! Now if only we can get that online system off the canvas…